Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007 (and worst)

As the New Year dawns, I am reminded of the books I found most encouraging and well worth reading again. Here are my top 5:

5. When Sinners Say "I Do", by Dave Harvey. Harvey begins where all aspects of our lives must begin, with the knowledge of God and ourselves. Good theology leading to good marriages makes for a good book.

4. Sermon on the Mount, by Dan Doriani. As we preached through the Sermon on the Mount this past year, many life changing truths were discovered. Doriani's book was key in my preparation as well as personal growth.

3. Decline of African-American Theology, by Thabiti Anyabwile. Excellent work. A better title would have been, "We Slipt Along Ways Baby: Theology from Jupiter Hammon to T.D. Jakes."

2. Amish Grace, by Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher. After the murderous shootings at Amish School in Nickel Mines, PA, the Amish showed the world what forgiveness really looks like. Great and informative read!

1. The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan. I know, its not fair. But every year it remains on my list without peer. Every time I read it I learn something more of God's glory and grace to me in Jesus Christ.

Lastly, here are a couple of books I read that I found disappointing. I am sure some found these books to their liking; I was not among them.

From the Hood to the Hill by Barry C. Black. I really thought I was going to enjoy this autobiographical account of the first black chaplain of the US Senate. Unfortunately, the book was too self-congratulating and indulgent. I suppose that is the nature of autobiographies, but this one was more than this reader could take. Admittedly, I could not even finish it.

If God is So Good, Why Are Blacks Doing So Bad, by James Dixon. This book actually is not a bad book except it was written by a preacher. If it had been written by someone else, I might have thought better of it. However, coming from the pen of a preacher, I expected to hear not just the problem but the solution, namely the gospel. Unfortunately, I did not. Dixon did a good job in diagnosing the issues plaguing Black America but did not offer the only true and lasting solution, namely the application of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all of life. Admittedly, the problem was more my expectation than the author's intention. I just hoped that two would match. They did not.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eric Redmond Interview

My man Eric Redmond has been interviewed by 9marks. Redmond recounts his own pastoral experience as well as some of the challenges of inter-ethnic and economic ministry. Eric's blog is A Man From Issachar.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Golden Compass

Have you seen the trailer for The Golden Compass? It looks very interesting. My son received a couple of movie passes for Christmas and we plan to go see The Golden Compass soon. Apparently some Christians have sought to boycott the film because of the anti-religion bias of the author of the books upon which the film is based. I suppose you will have to judge such things for yourself. Here is a good review of the film, taking into consideration the issues surrounding it. I plan to see it because it seems like just the type of movie around which my son and I can have great discussion about the nature of the kingdom of God and the challenges the world, the flesh, and the devil pose. Besides, it just looks good!

Decline of AA Theology V

In accessing the soteriology of early African-American Christian thinkers and preachers, Thabiti writes:

Both the "five solas" and the Synod of Dordt's doctrines of total (or radical) depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance (or preservation) of the saints provided the skeletal system for theology in the American colonies. Nearly all African American Christians inherited the "five solas" as a general Protestant framework over and against the Roman Catholic view of authority and justification and the Arminian view of man and grace rejected at Dordt. African Americans gained exposure to these views of salvation through their earliest contact with Europeans in the colonies, especially in the North. Southern slave testimonies and northern writers reveal a "soft orthodoxy" consistent with Reformation solas, with some even putting forth a stronger Calvinistic view of salvation owed largely to the influences of the Great Awakening and early Baptists in the South (p. 175).

In reading this I would not help but recall the words of Scripture in Jeremiah 6:16: Thus says the Lord: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your souls."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas...

From our hearts to your home. May you rediscover the glory of the Savior and may Christ become a new Christ to you this Christmas.
The Carter Family

Rachel Marie

Siera Lynn and Sarah Nicole

Anthony Jr.

The twins and Ana Elise

The Carter Kids being the Carter Kids!

God Bless You!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Great Television

There is not much on television that would garner the adjective "great", but here is one. I do believe that this is the greatest single scene ever shot for the television viewing audience. And no matter how many times I see it, it never gets old.

The Bible says, "...Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise..." (Matt. 21:6). Even so, out of cartoons for children.

O, that men would praise HIM!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Decline of African-American Theology 4

The central question of any theological perspective is "Who is Jesus?" Thabiti reminds us that Liberal and Liberation theology has led the way for decline of Christology in traditional African-American theology. According to Thabiti, Marcus Garvey said, "The life of Christ was intended to show man that he could lift himself by obedience to the highest soul expression (p. 150)." When examining the works of Howard Thurman, Thabiti says,

"Dr. Thurman denied the uniqueness of Jesus implied in the formula 'the only begotten Son'. He believed that 'any who is as sure of God as was Jesus, can hear for himself: 'Thou art my son, my beloved, this day I have begotten thee.' Moreover, becoming the son of God in the sense of acquiring the mind of Christ and having a similar relationship to God, according to Thurman, 'may be achieved without any necessity whatsoever of making a God out of Jesus (p. 152).'"

The liberal theology of Howard Thurman laid the ground work for the liberation theology of James Cone.

The appeal of liberation theology is the expediency and the immediacy of the need. It seeks to address the existential cry of the image of God for freedom, equality, and peace. Yet, the cyanide in this kool-aid is that it perverts the person and work of Jesus into nothing more than an anthropocentric exorcism. Subsequently, Jesus is only relevant in so far as He is willing and able to address my core issues. Thus, I am able to mold Jesus into the god of my issues. This Jesus inevitably becomes more like me than I like Him. Daily this Jesus is being conformed to my image (real and imagined), instead of me being conformed to His image (eternal and true).

Howard Thurman popularized it. Cone made it academically viable. African-America theology has been on a steady decline ever since.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Mystery of the Manger

Last evening our Children's Sunday School put on our Annual Christmas Program. Every year this is a much anticipated event as their hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm is demonstrated in their first class performance. Every year parents, family, and friends come from all around to see what production the Southwest Children will put together. This year was no different. This year the lower grades put on A Christmas Present and the older children performed, The Mystery of the Manger. Here is just a small excerpt to one of the songs they performed from the musical The Mystery of the Manger by Celeste Clydesdale. We had to change a few things to fit within our cultural context (if you know what I mean :-), yet the message was still the same. Sounds familiar? The video is amateurish by yours truly and does not do justice to these young performers. Hopefully you can still get the message.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pastor Resigns, Integrity Remains

In the midst of all the self-promoting and self-excusing that is popular among the so-called preachers today, it is good to know that there are still men who hold the ministry in high esteem and do not want to bring upon the calling ill-repute. I don't know this man, but I have much respect for his tough but right decision. I pray God reconciles this man with his family and the ministry.

Monday, December 10, 2007

An End to Sagging?

At least in the Atlanta Public School System. According to reports, the Atlanta Public School Board is going to ban sagging pants. This is a noble idea, however, it will be interesting to see how they can enforce the ban. Unless they have strong parental support, they will have a daily fight on their hands. Can't wait for the development of this one.

Decline of AA Theology 3

Whether we realize it or not, our anthropology (our understanding of the nature and conduct of humanity) says alot about our overall theology and understanding about God. A biblical understanding of human nature is usually grounded in a biblical understanding of God. When our doctrine of God goes into decline, so too does our doctrine of humanity. Thabiti does an excellent job in setting forth the decline of African-American theology in the area of anthropology. Early African-American writers and theologians expressed an undeniably biblical doctrine of humanity. Here are some quotes that demonstrate this point:

Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806): In the Bible, we are told what man is. That he was first made holy, in the image of God, that he fell from that state of holiness and became an enemy to God, and that since the fall, all imaginations of the thoughts of his heart are evil, and only evil and that continually. That the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be. And that all mankind was under the wrath and curse of God and must have been forever miserable if they had been left to suffer what their sins deserve.

This was to demonstrat that all humanity (black and white) were under sin and in the same spiritual condition of needing Savior. It also became the foundation for biblical and theological arguments for freedom. In quoting Lemuel Haynes, Thabiti writes:

However, resident in all people despite the Fall was "an innate principle, which is unmoveably placed in the human Species." That innate principle was "Liberty and freedom," which Haynes styled as "a Jewel which was handed Down to man from the cabinet of heaven...Coaeval [sic] with his Existance [sic]" and proceeding "from the Supreme Legislature of the universe." Man's equality with man was evident in the universal impulse toward freedom written by God into the very nature of man and the laws of nature. Efforts to deny this impulse were futile attempts to deny one's self in the case of the bondsman or to usurp the prerogative of God in the case of the enslaver.

In a word, "Awesome!"

Friday, December 07, 2007

Culture Clash 2

The second post in this discussion is now available at CRC. Our brother, Kevin Smith has chimed in. I hear rumblings that more is to come as the discussion deepens. Go check it out!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Decline of AA Theology II

Here is an excellent quote from (as Mark Noll says) Rev. Anyabwile:

The earliest black Christians maintained a tendency toward a Reformed or orthodox view of God as sovereign Ruler of all events. African-Americans built this understanding upon the teachings of Scripture and aligned it with the historic definitions of Christianity. A high view of God's sovereignty allowed early black Christians, despite the horrors of slavery, to trust that God had the necessary power to deliver them from oppression and that he would ultimately do so. Any perceived contradictions between this doctrine of God and the evil afflicting black people were resolved in the character of God. Such a belief implied at least two conclusions. First, these saints concluded that the events of their lives remained in the sovereign control of God. And second, they concluded that the proper response before the ineffable wisdom and providence of God was humility and faith. Both resolutions stirred more faith in God (p. 97).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Megachurches, Megaphones

Our brother Eric Redmond has an excellent article on the growth of the predominantly Black megachurch and the simultaneous lack of theological integrity in these churches. Eric is an excellent writer. I have read many things from him, and I can't wait for the publication of a book by him that I hope is not too long in coming. I read a pre-publication manuscript of it and I must say that we will all be greatly edified once it is in publication. Hopefully it is soon and very soon. Until then, read this article on Megachurches, Megaphones.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Cultures Clashing

Who said reformation was easy? Not me. Whether it is in our own personal theological journeys or in the church at large, serious theological and practical change comes with some constirnation. I have witnessed it and can say that it is not without its hurt feelings and misunderstood motives. Nevertheless, it is worth it. Reformation within the predominantly African-American Christian context is not any different. We can write books, hold conferences, and preach messages, but when it comes down to it, we must ask ourselves what difference will the recovered gospel make in the predominantly African-American context. What will it look like? How does a church let go of the cultural trappings and not lose its cultural soul? How do I affirm the biblically faithful Reformed theology, without having to become culturally like those who have historically held it? Can I still be black and reformed without it infringing upon my non-black brothers and sisters? What am I to do when the reformed culture (if there is one) clashes with my traditional black culture? These questions are not easily answered. Yet, they are relevant and unmistakable when seeking to do reform in an African-American context. And these are some of the questions that have sparked the discussion over at The Council of Reforming Churches. Our brother Eric Redmond has raised the issue. I am sure many other brothers and sisters will chime in. Go check it out.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Decline of African-American Theology

The much anticipated book The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity has finally arrived to an internet bookstore near you. Our brother Thabiti Anyabwile has done the body of Christ (and the African-American Church in particular) a wonderful service in detailing the decline of historic, biblical, and reformed Christianity within the predominantly African-American Church. Admittedly, this decline is not just located in churches where the membership has been predominantly black, but the decline is easily traced in the broader body of Christ in America as well. Nevertheless, Thabiti puts our focus upon the rarely-criticized, though needing-critique, predominantly African-American expression of Christianity. I am sure that reviews will begin to appear, even as some have offered their pre-publication critique of this work. As I make my way through it, I want to offer, not so much a review but some of the helpful and insightful thoughts of my brother that have particularly struck me in each section. I begin with a point concerning the nature and inspiration of Scripture. According to Thabiti, the Methodist Daniel Payne's (1811-1893) view of Scripture was thus:

The only safe guide for a man or woman, young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, priest or people is the Bible, the whole Bible, nothing but the Bible. (p. 30)

In demonstrating how the view of Scripture has devolved, Thabiti quotes the contemporary Methodist theologian James Cone as saying:

I still regard the Bible as an important source of my theological reflections, but not the starting point. The black experience and the Bible together in dialectical tension serve as my point of departure today and yesterday. The order is significant. I am black first-and everything else comes after that. (p. 52)

In reading this section and Thabiti's careful comparison and evaluation of the erosion of the doctrine of Scripture, it occurred to me that our spiritual fathers approached liberation through the foundational objective truth of the Scriptures. Cone approaches Scripture through the subjective, self-establishing notion of liberation. There is a world of difference between these two views. There is a world of difference between the view of Scripture of the church in Payne's day and the view of Scripture of the same church today.
You can read Thabiti to learn more. I am.